Those living on edge may get cash aid

A glimmer of hope of compensation for people who lose homes and businesses if sea defences are abandoned has emerged from a top-level meeting.

Campaigners from North Norfolk who have been pressing for such payments say they are heartened that senior civil servants are at least considering the issue.

A delegation from the north of the county was among those attending a seminar of coastal defence experts and Government officials at Westminster.

Co-ordinator of the Coastal Concerns Action Group, Malcolm Kerby, said he was "greatly encouraged" that officials were looking at the compensation issue.

It is a key concern of people around the region's coast where a new draft Shoreline Management Plan (SMP) from Kelling to Lowestoft would shift from a policy of hold the line to managed retreat.

That would lead to the abandonment of many established defences, and result in £250m-worth of property being lost to the sea over the next century.

That sum however was only "peanuts" in Government terms, and it was a basic bit of social justice to ensure that if people lost their homes and businesses under such a policy switch, they should be paid at least market value, said Mr Kerby.

The Government should also indemnify any buildings rendered uninsurable and whose value was hit by the change, which would remove the blight the new SMP had already caused along the coast, even in draft form.

Mr Kerby said it was good that laymen campaigners like himself could "sit down at the highest level and put across our points of view" but they were only "third of the way up the compensation hill".

MP Norman Lamb said he was "heartened" by the debate, following earlier negative official responses about the prospects of compensation.

He would continue to press for compensation including possible ways of funding it, which could include a carbon levy as global warming was one of the factors increasing coastal erosion.

Officers and members of North Norfolk District Council were also at the seminar, along with representatives from the Yarmouth and Waveney areas also affected by the SMP.

Chief executive Philip Burton welcomed the meeting but felt it was a pity such a gathering had not happened earlier – before the launch of the SMP and subsequent public outcry.

In the past such plans had been driven by academic and scientific considerations, and a mistake had been not involving people earlier, to look at the consequences for, and get the views of, the communities affected.

The council was unlikely to be able to adopt the SMP as it stood, because there were too many uncertainties – including the issue of compensation, he added.